Lidingölabbet and Ida Lindman answer questions about reaching peak performance

With TCS Lidingöloppet around the corner, many are curious about the idea of peak performance - how to feel at your very best on race day. In this article, Ida Lindman, licensed physician and PhD, responds to some questions posed by the TCS Lidingöloppet community regarding peak performance.

On Lidingölabbet's expert Ida Lindman:
Licensed physician and PhD
Relation to TCS Lidingöloppet: 
As a running-loving physician with a great interest in physical activity and health, I really appreciate TCS Lidingöloppet's community, atmosphere the great joy for running.


Question 1: For how many days do muscles need to rest to perform at their best on race day?

Answer: The primary purpose of tapering before a race is to allow muscles to recover and regain their glycogen levels, as well as to repair tissue and allow metabolic enzymes and hormone levels - which may be lowered due to exercise - to return back to normal.

Studies show that this can allow you to perform up to 3% better in a race. However, this depends on a number of factors, such as training habits, traning load, age, gender, nutritional habits, and the distance of the race event, but you can make some generalizations.

If you have carried out your training continuously and according to plan before a race, most people usually reduce the amount and the intensity of training for two to three weeks before a race. For longer races, such as TCS Lidingöloppet, you can gradually start reducing your training load three weeks before the event. There are different theories but a common recommendation is to taper 80-90 % three weeks before the race, 60-70 % two weeks before and then 50 % during the last week before the race.

Many people rest completely the day before the race event, while elite runners often go for a light jog. This is also a matter of choice and there is no answer to that is for everyone. Also consider that sleep, diet, hydration, and external stress also affect the body's ability to recover before a race.

What should I do if I accidentally get an ankle sprain during a last training session? Can I still take part in TCS Lidingöloppet?

Answer: It depends on the degree of sprain, as well as on your pain. A severe ankle sprain can take several months to heal, while a minor sprain can heal in a couple of days.

In the past, complete rest was recommended for ankle sprains, but today, light activity, mobility and rehabilitation are also used to cure serious sprains.

To get an individual assessment of the damage, I would recommend you to go to a good physiotherapist and to let him or her examine the ankle. If the sprain is small, it does not have to prevent you from taking part in the race.

I find that I get out of shape when I rest before a race, is that correct?

Answer: Many people experience that they lose their fitness when they rest completely - it can make you feel a little stiff, uncoordinated, and like you have lost your cardivascular strength. It is therefore important to maintain the right level of activity, and complete rest is rarely recommended.

Research shows that complete rest for many days in a row can make the muscles less efficient, as their ability to absorb glucose from the bloodstream decreases, and as their ability to handle the accumulated lactate decreases. Another physiological effect can be that you lose blood volume to some extent if you cut back on training too much in the last two weeks. Cardiovascular fitness is perishable and could, theoretically decrease in the last days before a race.

You should thus keep your body moving and instead reduce the training load and amount before the race event. Cutting back on the hard load the week before a race allows you to benefit from the training you have built up. Many people find that complete rest means that you do not feel alert in your body - your legs feel heavy, which creates a negative feeling. Lighter training the week before can therefore be good in order to mentally recharge. Hard sessions the week before the race, however, will not contribute to peak performance - by then, the important sessions should already be done.

I have runner's stomach and fast workouts only make it worse. What can I do to still be ready on race day?

Answer: Runner's stomach is a concern for many runners - some studies even show that up to 70% of athletes experience this. Common symptoms are diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea.

There are various theories as to why this happens. One explanation is that the blood supply to your working muscles gets redistributed during physical exertion. It is then reduced to the stomach and intestines, which gives less oxygen to the stomach. This, in turn, disturbs the digestion, and gives movement to the bowel and to the bowel emptying reflexes.

What one can do to control this is to adjust what and when you eat. Avoid fatty or fiber-rich foods such as wholemeal bread, fruit, and legumes during the last days before the race, as they can lead to stomach issues if they remain in the intestines. Instead, choose easily digested foods which are high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Yet, you should avoid light products, as they may contain sweeteners which have a certain laxative effect. Likewise, coffee can can stimulate the gut to some extent.

Another advice is not to try any new food items before the race. Check well in advance what food and drinks are provided along the course, and try them out to see if your stomach can handle them. If you have a lot of stomach problems, you may want to consider avoiding sports drinks completely during the race. It is important to find out how your body works, and it is a good idea to keep a diary to see how it reacts to different diets and exercise.

I have leant that hard training in autumn rain is not a great combination. How do you stay healthy while getting in shape?

Answer: Directly after a hard training session, one's immune system becomes weak for a couple of hours, and is then most susceptible to contracting an infection. The autumn cold and rain do not in itself affect the immune system. The problem is rather that we spend more time indoors during this season, and that more viruses thus get a chance to spread.

In order to stay healthy during autumn, good hand hygiene is important - both when it comes to washing your hands with soap and water, as well as sanitizing your hands. Avoid exposing yourself to infections - this may be easier said than done, but you can for example try to avoid large crowds. Likewise, recovery - including sleep and diet are important to stay healthy.

How do I know whether I am getting close to peak performance? Is it just a matter of a lower resting heart rate?
Answer: It can be difficult to know if you have reached your peak performance.The reason why you get a lower resting heart rate when you exercise is that the heart, which is a muscle, grows and therefore needs fewer beats per minute to pump the same amount of blood out to the body. This is especially noticeable in untrained people, who often gain a lower resting heart rate quite quickly.

On the other hand, the resting heart rate in itself is not the best indicator for whether you have succeeded with your training. The better trained you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be, but it does not say much on how you will perform in a race.

Several physiological effects, in addition to the resting heart rate, can measure performance level, including Vo2-max, lactate levels, and measurements of running economy. What has become more and more accepted is that peak performance is largely a psychological phenomenon, where the mental attitude influences whether one succeeds. A good way to test your development can be to run a test run (for example a 5K) at the beginning of the season, and then run it again at the end of the season to compare times. Also, one should not ignore the general, subjective feeling on race day.

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